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Callecat [Interview]

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Callecat is the musical fusion between Koen & Gijs who share their passion for music, coffee and cats. They have both been DJing separately and together they have more than 30 years of international DJ experience in various genres. In 2017, the duo started collaborating for some studio work, inspired by artists like Hernan Cattaneo, Nick Warren, Eelke Kleijn and Guy J. This resulted in lots of fun and releases on The Soundgarden, Manual Music, Mango Alley, Movement Recordings, 3rd Avenue, One Of A Kind, MNL, Magnitude Recordings, Future Avenue, Bevel Rec, Concrete Kin and 8music. As they share a passion for progressive deep house, they strive to bring you a warm and melodic sound. This week sees Callecat making their debut on Canada's Deep Down Music with a new single 'Axolotl', alongside remixes from Sebastian Sellares and Daniel Testas.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Callecat to learn more about the release of ‘Axolotl’, their studio process, inspirations, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Koen & Gijs, thanks for joining us today. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Back in the studio after a holiday in the French and Italian Alps! So all ready to be creative and productive again! At the moment Nico Szabo’s “Soledad (Day Mix)” is on, not the newest, but still a great track!

Tell us about growing up in the Netherlands and how it affected your journey into electronic music. Who from your hometown inspired you when you first discovered your love for electronic music ?

Gijs: I got introduced to DJing through a workshop I had to do for secondary school. I loved it straight away and I asked the teacher if I could practice more and went to his house every week for a few months to use his DJ set.

Then I bought my own DJ set, and eventually wanted to make my own edits, mashups etc.

I had a few friends who were also producing music and together we fiddled with the programs to teach ourselves how to produce music. When I started producing, I drifted between electro house, EDM and tech house, and even released a few tracks under a different name in those genres, names like Hardwell, JoeySuki, Martin Garrix used to be a great inspiration for me back then.

Koen: For me this started in High School, as we loved to mix some music with some friends. I went on my bike to the local music shop and bought some singles, which I tried to mix together on 2 discmans. Obviously this didn’t work out because they don’t have pitch control, so my parents may not have liked this period so much :).

When I found out that there was DJ gear, I bought a pair of turntables and started to buy vinyl. My sportscoach was also a techno DJ and taught me how to use them.

Then I got a few gigs and I started to play at some DJ contests and student parties and even some serious gigs. Later on I went on playing for Hed Kandi and Ministry of Sound in Egypt. That of course became known in my hometown (Utrecht) and from there on the gigs continued.

How did you guys meet and eventually start collaborating? And what musical projects were involved in prior to Callecat?

Koen: Later on I founded a DJ School and Gijs became one of the teachers. Then a friend of mine wanted me to make a remix of Jason Mraz - I’m Yours for his wedding. There was a minor problem: I didn’t know how to produce :).

And that’s where Gijs came in. Once we sat down in the studio, we found out that we were able to work together very well and also we had loads of fun. That was the main driver to start Callecat, and still is very important in our daily routine. Music is important, but having fun while doing it is even more important to us!

Gijs: I was producing electro house for a few years including some releases, but I never fell in love with the music I made. If you’re curious, it was under the name ‘Zivo’. When Koen and I sat in the studio for the first time he played ‘Above The Clouds’ by Ben Shaw. I’d never heard progressive house like this before and I was so amazed by the style of music and fell in love with the genre straight away.

A successful partnership is generally based around balance and compromise; how do you manage these things within your production dynamic?

Communication and veto’s, haha. We spend a lot of time together in a small room (the studio, what else?), so it’s important to communicate about ideas, preferences, what you like / don’t like about a track, etc.

We’ve been working together for years already now, so our collaboration works really well and feels natural. But unfortunately, the both of us can be quite stubborn at times. When we disagree about something we usually let it sit for a few days and come back to it later, then it always solves itself.

Do you have different roles in the production process? And if so elaborate please.

We complement each other pretty well in the production process. Where Gijs is more technically skilled and does all the nerd-stuff in productions, Koen has a more DJ-view on tracks; making sure they sit well in the mix and the ‘story’ of a track is right.

Working as a duo is an interesting dynamic. Do you guys share a studio where all the sessions are together or do you produce separately and pass files back and forth? And if you have done both, what do you prefer and why?

We share a studio in Utrecht where we make all of our music together. Gijs usually creates drafts of ideas which Koen edits and continues the creative process while Gijs reads a Donald Duck comic on the couch.

Then we both do technical stuff while the other is making coffee or is making a stupid instagram post. In the end we play the track both and finalize it.

The good thing about this is that creating music is always going on, even while we both have our breaks. We prefer being together in the same room so we both can have input on the direction of a track. And of course, it’s way more fun to make music together!

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone teach you or are you self-taught? What would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

Gijs: for me it’s mostly self-taught and a lot of YouTube tutorials. When I started I had a few friends who were also producing. We met up every Friday and shared new things we’d learned that week, although it usually was mostly drinking beer, haha.

Koen: I knew a lot about arrangements by DJing for years, but productionwise, Gijs taught me :). This helps, because Gijs produces music as a technical/producer, while I produce music with the track being mixed in a DJ-set in mind.

If you were a tour-guide for nightlife in the Netherlands, what would be the clubs you’d take the people to see and what local DJs do they need to hear?

Of course ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) is in our backyard, so we would definitely recommend going there. But also outside of ADE there are many great places in the Netherlands. For Progressive house, most of the scene is in and around Amsterdam.

You have a new single entitled ‘Axolotl’ out now on Deep Down Music, tell us about the track and how it showcases your current sound.

In our DJ set we love to play groovy, catchy and melodic tracks, and Axolotl fits perfectly. It has a dark, groovy theme that carries throughout the track with a dreamy melody that lifts up the breaks. We’re very happy with the results and the response from crowds we’ve had so far!

In case you’re wondering what an Axolotl looks like… have a look at this beauty:

Let our readers inside your studio. What does your set-up look like? Do you favour physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of ‘Axolotl’?

For us, the most important gear is good speakers and room acoustics. We have 2 Adam A7X’s, an Adam Sub8 and a simple midi keyboard. We’re oldschool, still using (and loving) Logic.

Other than that, it’s all software that does the trick for us. We love using software because it’s super fast to create something that you have in your mind. Our favourite plugins, which are also heavily used in Axolotl, are Spire, Diva, FabFilter bundle. And for hardware our most-used instrument is the coffee machine :).

Have a look in our studio:

Let’s talk about production a bit more for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play? And was there anything that inspired ‘Axolotl’?

We get inspired after visiting a party where a good Dj set is played, when listening to other genres of music, or when in the shower, haha.

When we have an idea we usually record ourselves explaining the idea on video and ‘singing’ the melodies we have in mind to be able to recreate the idea when in the studio. This works surprisingly well.

Axolotl was created around May 2022, when we were in a house in the forest for a week with our studio gear set up in there. The peace and quiet of the environment inspired us heavily there!

This is your first appearance on Deep Down Music, what was it about the label which gave you confidence to do an original project with them right away?

We had Deep Down on our radar for a while due to its quality releases. When we met Mark, Deep Down owner, last year during ADE to talk about a potential release on his label we were impressed by the way he runs the label and how helps artists besides putting the music out there. This interview is a good example of that :).

Apart from that, we got to know Mark quite a bit and get on really well with him. So for us it was a logical step to create an original track and release it with Deep Down!

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate later on? And to add to that, how much gig testing is done before you’re ready to put a finished stamp on a track?

When working on a track for a while we get the feeling of being ‘stuck’ sometimes. Then it’s really great to leave the track lying for a while and get back to it later.

This always helps to be able to listen to the track with fresh ears again, so sometimes we delete a few elements which already does the trick, or we know what needs to be edited for the track to be finished.

Gig testing helps a lot as well, as you can see if the crowd responds in the way you’d imagined. It can be quite disappointing if the response is less than expected, but it’s even more rewarding when you can fix the track and get it right after!

What task do you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

The first 80% of creating a track for sure. This 80% takes up only about ½ of the time for a track to be finished, we spend a lot of time mixing and finalising tracks. This nitty gritty stuff can be very boring, but it’s very important as well.

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

We love to create sets where the energy is high and the groove never stops. We always play with 4 CDJ’s and create a base layer of drums and percussion. On top of this groove, we can play with melodies of different tracks. This creates a long-lasting groove where the melodies go in and out very naturally without having the idea that you go from one track to the other. It all flows more naturally and it’s a lot easier to keep on dancing :).

And how do you DJ as a duo? Is it a b2b one track each type situation?

We use loops a lot and mix relatively fast, always with 4 decks. So apart from mixing a new track in, there’s a lot of things that we do together. As we are working together for years already, DJing together is very natural. This basically makes us a DJ with 4 arms/hands :).

Can you tell us a bit how your work as a DJs has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producers?

By being producers, we always listen to music in the way of ‘how is this made’? Or ‘wow what a cool snare’. I’m sure that’s very recognizable for many other producers.

A nice example is that we went to an orchestra performance a while ago where they played music from ‘the Efteling’ (theme park in the Netherlands). The people we went with ‘just’ heard a song, where we were talking about the many different layers and special sounds that made up the songs.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice , who would you book and what set time would you ascribe to the artists?

  1. Gustin - he is the best at playing intro sets, setting the vibe just right every time!
  2. Ezequiel Arias - taking you on a journey with surprising melodies
  3. GMJ & Matter - cranking up the energy level
  4. Guy J - closing off with freaky sounds and great grooves

What’s a book you’ve read or film you have watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Gijs: The Barefoot Dutchman by Anton Nootenboom. A story of an ex-soldier who deals with mental problems and vulnerability with men, and walks on his bare feet to raise awareness about these topics. An inspiring story that makes me think about vulnerability and openness.

Koen: Factfullness by Hans Rosling. This Swedish professor teaches about the stong habit of only carrying out opinions when you have strong supporting facts. Most of the people in the world are not well aware of the real data behind global trends, and Hans Rosling found a few patterns that makes people look in a negative way to global trends by default. Like how many young woman go to school, how many people live in poverty etc. We systematically get the answers wrong :).

And we both love the books of Randall Munroe, because he combines science to very absurd and creative questions. It’s just fun and makes us creative.

Looking back on your six-year journey as Callecat, what achievements, releases or gigs hold the most significance or fondest memories for you?

We recently made our debut on the Soundgarden label, of which we’re very proud! And in general we’re honoured to have the continued trust of all labels we have released with so far, for example Manual Music, Mango Alley, Movement Recordings, 3rd Avenue, etc (and Deep Down of course…).

In terms of gigs we generally just really love to play in front of a crowd that genuinely loves what we do. For example we played at Hartstocht festival this year in March, which is organised by real progressive house lovers, which is noticeable when playing. The vibe was amazing.

Or a boat party we did recently (De Zomervloot X La Guarderia). It was on an old sailboat on a beautiful sunny day on a lake, with around 100 people on the boat who created an amazing vibe together.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Gijs: I love to take my race bike and disappear in the forests near Utrecht. Apart from that I love craft beer and am always looking for one I haven’t had yet. And I love making bad jokes :).

Koen: I love hiking in the mountains and creating things from wood. And I have very dry humour.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you guys? Anything you want to share with us?

We have been working hard on our first artist album. The first EP’s will appear this year, the full album next year. Keep an eye on our socials to be the first to know and hear everything. This is a very big project for us, so we have cleared our release schedule completely to be able to focus on the album. Just before the album we have a remix of Federico Flores coming out on AH Digital at the end of September. And of course we will play during ADE!

'Axolotl' is available now via Deep Down Music: https://bit.ly/3R1n6r8

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